Crossing deaths underline risks

A family of three were killed when the van in which they were traveling violated a level crossing near the northern city of Komotini and was hit by an oncoming train. The crash came on the same day as a similar collision, involving a car on a crossing near the town of Kilkis, and was accompanied by the release of statistics showing that the great majority of level crossings in Greece are not guarded. The first collision yesterday occurred shortly before 10 a.m. when the small van being driven by a Bulgarian man, and carrying his wife and 14-year-old daughter, crossed an electronically operated level crossing whose bars had been lowered. The van was hit by an oncoming train en route to Thessaloniki from Alexandroupoli and was dragged for some 250 meters. According to the local fire service, the vehicle was compressed into a crushed mass of metal from which the bodies of the three victims had to be cut. No harm came to any of the 58 train passengers or its driver. Just one hour later, a vehicle moved on to another level crossing, also electronically operated, near Kilkis, resulting in minor injuries for the 70-year-old motorist but no harm to the 21 passengers who had been aboard the train en route to Thessaloniki from Veria. After the accidents yesterday, fresh statistics were made public, revealing that 1,021 of the country’s 1,829 level crossings are completely unguarded. More than a third, or 689, of the crossings on the country’s 2,500-kilometer rail network are electronically operated but only 5 percent, or 91, have a railway guard. According to transport experts, electronically operated crossings are not taken as seriously by motorists, many of whom regard them as unguarded and attempt to cross them, often with serious consequences.